Throughout history, celebrities have, in many ways, used their stardom to prompt change and shed light on important issues. In the last couple of years, celebrities have become more vocal on matters concerning social injustices.
Is it possible for a celebrity to become the leader of a social movement? The simple answer is yes today, many movements started by stars have more impact since they already have a following. Besides, when a celebrity joins a campaign, the attention often shifts to them.
Given the increased participation of public figures in social movements, it is essential to define their role. During a panel discussion at Playa Vista Campus, one of the attendees posed a question on what the role of celebrities is in the causes that they support.
The attendee also sought to find out whether there is a specific role assigned to celebrities and whether they passively engage in activism. The panel consisted of Sarah Jackson, co-editor of #HashtagActivism: Race and Gender in America’s Networked Counterpublics.
Monica Ramirez and Myrla Baldonado of #TimesUp and Patrisse Cullors of #BlackLivesMatter were also in attendance.
To answer the question, Cullors said that, unfortunately, people are obsessed with celebrities and think that supporting a cause should be trendy. She further clarified that these causes are not about becoming famous but are about impacting change.
There are very many social injustices happening right in front of our eyes, and social movements are about helping those who are vulnerable.
She also said that making movements trendy can lead to them becoming untrendy just as fast.
Cullors further explained that the widespread belief that when a celebrity joins a movement, then it is a cool thing poses a significant danger to these movements. Therefore, according to Cullors, celebrities shouldn’t lead movements the leadership posts should be for those who are directly affected by the issues.
However, it is also essential to acknowledge that celebrities have a lot of influence on their fans. Vanessa Diaz, an assistant professor from the Department of Chicana/o and Latina studies, researched celebrity culture in LA.
She concluded that celebrities are very influential, especially to younger generations. Elsewhere, Jillian Schutz, a freshman at Loyola Marymount Universities, said that celebrities are first of all real people with real opinions before they are celebrities.
Following the divided views on the role of celebrities in social movements, is it enough for a celebrity to voice their opinion on specific issues, or should they join these movements and lead the discussions?
Celebrities like Rihanna, Beyonce, Kim Kardashian, Regina King, Alyssa Milano, and many others have been working to support various causes. Regina King vowed to produce more projects that feature women while Kim Kardashian has been very active in campaigning for prison reform.
Many female celebrities have been in support of pro-equality, and while some have joined and started movements, others have shown their stand through their art.
We have also seen celebrities like Ryan Gosling, who is a pro-democracy advocate. In 2018, he launched a book together with the director of the Enough Project that works to fight crimes against humanity. British rapper Stormzy is also supporting youth education by sponsoring four black students to the University of Cambridge.
Oprah built a school in South Africa, LeBron James built a school in Akron, Miley Cyrus and her husband Liam Hemsworth are helping reconstruct Malibu after fires, to mention but a few of the celebrities involved in various causes.
Their contributions to various movements cannot be overlooked. Through their influence, they have managed to raise funds for wildlife conservation, help at-risk youth, and represent the LGBTQ community as well as other marginalized groups.
However, there is another division when it comes to celebrity activists. After Jussie Smollet’s case, the world is now wondering whether celebrity activists are genuine or just looking to further their agendas.
According to an article by the news site Daily Beast, calls for people to take another look at celebrity activists have circulated far and wide. Jussie Smollett, an actor who is a #BlackLivesMatter activist as well as an LGBTQ advocate, faked an attack for attention.
After investigations by the police, it was found that Jussie paid two Nigerian brothers to attack him and passed it off as a hate crime. In his version of events, Jussie claimed white supremacists attacked him for being black and gay.
Immediately after the story broke, there was a lot of supportive messages streaming in for Jussie and people were angered by the injustice he’d suffered. He even went on various interviews to recount the incident. However, upon review by the police, Jussie’s story was found to be fabricated, and he was arrested.
Following this instance, is it still right that celebrities lead and join social movements? Many argue that the sins of a few shouldn’t damn everyone else while others feel that stars should stay away from interfering and involving themselves in social movements. What do you think?